Do you comment here? Then you DO change opinions

The New York Times reports

IN the beginning, the technology gods created the Internet and saw that it was good. Here, at last, was a public sphere with unlimited potential for reasoned debate and the thoughtful exchange of ideas, an enlightening conversational bridge across the many geographic, social, cultural, ideological and economic boundaries that ordinarily separate us in life, a way to pay bills without a stamp.

Then someone invented “reader comments” and paradise was lost.

The Web, it should be said, is still a marvelous place for public debate. But when it comes to reading and understanding news stories online — like this one, for example — the medium can have a surprisingly potent effect on the message. Comments from some readers, our research shows, can significantly distort what other readers think was reported in the first place.

What an arrogant piece of writing from the New York Times.

Paraphrased, they say that they used to enjoy being able to tell you what to think, and then some idiot let you express your opinion, and… shock horror, you opinion can change what people will think about the article that may be at odds with the author’s original intention. 

And they think this is a bad thing?

Here at Whale Oil Beef Hooked I’m not afraid of what you think or what you write.  In fact, it is actively encouraged.

But isn’t it nice to know that publishers of any ilk can introduce the topic, but they can no longer control the  message?

Long may it last, too.

NYT  continues

But here, it’s not the content of the comments that matters. It’s the tone.

In a study published online last month in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, we and three colleagues report on an experiment designed to measure what one might call “the nasty effect.”

Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones — though the actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” and “You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.”

The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

While it’s hard to quantify the distortional effects of such online nastiness, it’s bound to be quite substantial, particularly — and perhaps ironically — in the area of science news.

What the story doesn’t show is that those ‘nasty’ comments aren’t all one-sided.  Throughout the debate, there is balance to it.

To simply remove all ‘nasty’ comments, no matter what side of the debate they took, isn’t much of an experiment other than to lament the fact that they can’t control the message.

The New York Times does show that you have a chance to change public opinion with your contributions, and apparently, if you show passion and are committed to your particular point of view, you will be more effective at changing people’s perceptions.

It’s possible that the social norms in this brave new domain will change once more — with users shunning meanspirited attacks from posters hiding behind pseudonyms and cultivating civil debate instead.

Until then, beware the nasty effect.

The arrogance of this piece astounds me.  How is this any different to a Council meeting, a protest or the discussions at a union picket line?

They treat the reader, and commenter, as some sort of unintelligent, meek vessel that requires protection from “nastiness” and somehow needs to only have carefully crafted information poured into it, by, dare I even say it…

Decent Journalists, trained and skilled.

And your opinions my dear readers and commenters?  They don’t want them unless you are nice and compliant.  How dare you ague what they have so carefully crafted for you to consume and accept without resistance.


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  • PlanetOrphan

    I’d have to say that study must have been a cursory one.

    As commenters go on commenting they will invariably develope a thicker skin and hopefully be able to form opinions of their own and stick to them, because they have applied some thought to it.

    The rest wil be sheep regardless, and will change their opinions the next time they watch the “News” etc. anyway.

  • onelaw4all

    That summarises the Left perfectly.

    Any opposing facts/arguments/opinions need to be ridiculed, ignored, or (in their dream scenario) regulated/legislated away.
    Never mind the fact that they have a stranglehold on 90%+ of the MSM.

    • Dan

      The NY Times a left paper? Surely you jest.

      • Jman

        If you’re unaware that the NY times is left wing then you are either badly misinformed, have a completely twisted idea of what left or right is, or are simply too devoid of common knowledge to be participating in threads like these.

        Hope that’s not too nasty for the NY Times.

        • onelaw4all

          A) Dan was being sarcastic.
          B) What you said.

        • Dan

          No, if you so easily mistake the vanilla icecream liberal centrism of the NY Times for leftism, then your assertion applies entirely to yourself.

  • cows4me

    And what would the NYT consider “rude comments”, wait I know. Anyone who does not believe Obummer is God and the way of the left is simply not the truth, not the light, not the all.

  • Mr_Blobby

    “Uncivil” “Nasty”. Who are you calling nasty, Fuck you and you and you over there, you nasty little worm.

  • Agent BallSack

    I get slightly pissed at some of the Stuff comments rules, it seems that you’re not allowed common sense there either. I have seen plenty of attacks on people there, but pull up anyone for being a bit stupid and I am always moderated out.

    • Agent BallSack

      That’s because you’re a pedantic sarcastic little creep BallSack

  • J.M

    Fair comment and good post. Cam knows full well that I agree with him about 50% of the time, and disagree with him on things such as transport, gay marriage and his anti-catholicism. At least here I get to have my say, even if the owner of the site does not always agree with what I write. I have to give him credit for that.

  • It really really annoys me when I read an article that is full of inaccurate information and I can’t call out the journalists BS!

  • Hazards001

    What a load of bollocks! Anyone that agrees with that load of piss weak pantie waist codswallop needs a good hard kick in the groin to wake them the fuck up.
    This is exactly whats wrong with the world, to many PC wankers with to much too say.
    Of course there’s no need to be a complete cunt when you comment on a post…just saying :-D